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Quotations about Kakistocracy


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MSNBC host Joy Reid made it to the trending word list on Merriam-Webster.com yesterday. According to the dictionary site, lookups for kakistocracy spiked after she used the word in a tweet: "Look up the definition of 'kakistocracy' today, my fellow Americans. Things will make much more sense." –@JoyAnnReid (Peggy Noonan had actually already introduced the "new" old word to Americans in The Wall Street Journal in August 2016.) M‑W etymologists date this interesting word back to the 1600s, and so of course I had to search through the archive at Google Books to dig up some quotes. Below is my harvest. A note on context: Much of what I found in the 19th century where I focused my search was by conservative authors vigilant against being ruled by the more liberal elements of society or by racial or religious minorities, professing the belief that some people are just downright better than others, the "others" shouldn't govern, and that's the way it should be. Use caution when quoting these figures, as some excerpts have been trimmed to display only portions that better reflect American current events.  –Terri, 2017 June 30th


I end with a new word, at least new to me. A friend called it to my attention. It speaks of the moment we're in. It is kakistocracy, from the Greek. It means government by the worst persons, by the least qualified or most unprincipled. We're on our way there, aren't we? We're going to have to make our way through it together. ~Peggy Noonan, "The Week They Decided Donald Trump Was Crazy," Wsj.com, 2016 August 4th


Good men of calm judgment, looking at the course of events, have seriously feared that our government was rapidly becoming a kakistocracy — a rule of the worst. ~William Frederic Faber, "Church and State: A Plea for their Complete Separation," Thoughts for Thought: Discussions of Timely Topics, 1886


An aristocracy may be a noble thing if it rules well and cultivates to the utmost mental and moral capacities of man. But if it live only to rule for self-indulgence, it becomes instead of an aristocracy, or government of the best, a kakistocracy, a government of the worst. If they use their capital chiefly for the purpose of increasing their own wealth, they may become a mere plutocracy, or money-power, which would result in the meanest kind of kakistocracy. They would soon realise the common proverb, and produce a remedy worse than the disease. ~William Maxwell Hetherington, "The Sins of the Times," sermon, Free St Paul's, Edinburgh, 1854  [a little altered –tg]


Thus matters will go on, until universal anarchy, or kakistocracy, the government of the worst, is fully established. ~William Joseph Harper, 1846  [Before you go out quoting this, please take note that it is extracted from a pro-slavery essay. –tg]


Revolutionary Democracy differs from ancient and medieval merely in this, that it is not an aristocracy, or government of the best, but a kakistocracy, or government of the worst — a polity in which wisdom, culture, virtue, even wealth, are suppressed by folly, ferocity, vice, and poverty. ~William Samuel Lilly, A Century of Revolution, 1889


These fellows have no notion what love of country means.... What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone.... Is ours a "government of the people by the people for the people," or a Kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?... Democracy in itself is no more sacred than monarchy. It is Man who is sacred; it is his duties and opportunities, not his rights, that nowadays need reinforcement. It is honour, justice, culture, that makes liberty invaluable, else worse than worthless, if it mean only freedom to be base and brutal.... Let us all work together (and the task will need us all) to make Democracy possible. ~Russell Lowell, 1891


Politicians constitute the desire for office as a means of gain, being the force of cohesion which keeps leaders and followers together. They have the spirit of self-interest to rouse them and the bridle of fear to check any stirrings of independence. They are organized in rings which are dominated by a Boss. This is the source of immeasurable corruption in public life in the United States, for the Boss is, as a rule, utterly venal. He makes a business of gaining power and then selling it. The penalty of that corruption is written in the broken lives and bitter passions of the poor. The Great Republic is really ruled by an aristocracy, or kakistocracy, of Bosses, of whom it is not too much to say that they directly appoint the President, the House, and the Senate. The mind and moral sentiment of the American people are not represented in Congress. Our Government has, in large degree, become government by the strong and unscrupulous. The ordinary citizen occasionally, in disgust, votes for "the other man" or "the other party" but generally to find that he has effected only a change of masters, or secured the same masters under different names. And he is beginning to accept the situation and to leave politics to politicians, as something with which an honest, self-respecting man cannot afford to meddle. Such is what is called self-government in the United States. ~Mash-up quote of James Bryce, Henry George, Samuel A. Barnett, and William S. Lilly, compiled by Lilly, 1893, a little altered by Terri Guillemets, 2017


Alas for human nature! no unmixed form of government has ever long continued to rule for the good of the governed. In a generation or two the paternal monarchy becomes a tyranny; the aristocracy, or government of the best, an oligarchy, or government of the few; the orderly democracy (dreamed of by many theorists, but seldom realised on a large scale) a kakistocracy, or government of the worst.... England ever runs the risk of lapsing, not into the utopian democracy of the theorists, but into the practical kakistocracy of your professional Destructives. Symptoms of this sad tendency are to be seen in an excessive impatience under disaster; it being a weakness inherent in a bad democracy not to be able to bear adversity; and the disposition to throw the blame of our misfortunes on individual treason or incapacity, instead of on our national shortcomings. Another bad symptom is the disposition to make the lower classes interesting at the expense of the higher, — winking at the selfishness of human nature in the one case, and exaggerating it in the same proportion in the other; thus fanning the flame of that frightful antagonism between rich and poor. We all know that in Rome it preceded the abolition of liberty. ~Charles Forbes René de Montalembert, 1855  [a little altered –tg]



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